the Age of Confusion
– another metastory –
The grandfathers waited. So did the grandmothers, and the fathers and mothers, and the young men and women, and the children – the little boys and the little girls. They all waited.
Then Teller-of-stories began to speak…
“What does it mean, we are in Winter? How can we better understand where we are, so as to see more clearly where we might want to go?
“Not all Winters are the same. We are not just passing from one civilization – one metastory – to another. We are passing from a specific culture to the yet-to-reveal-itself successor culture. So the question for us is: Are there clues from Autumn and Winter, suggesting what the Mystery has in store for Spring?
“If I was to put the matter as simply as possible it would start to go like this. Autumn began in the 14th Century, when science was born. Now that statement is fairly abstract. We need to think more about this.
“The language we first speak, and unto which we are given at birth, gives us, in return, the fundamental initial experience of culture. In this sense, languages are living beings. They are a kind of live mental/spiritual atmosphere. We breath into our thinking their character and nature, as we absorb our birth language and the culture of meaning which it carries.
“Now someone may think, what do you mean by living? Well, just consider that we already call some languages dead, when there are no longer any living speakers and bearers of the appropriate culture. Not only that, but a language survives the death of its original individual speakers, as long as there is at least some small community of speakers to carry it. In addition languages grow and change as the culture grows and changes and as the relevant people experience the various crises of their history. Just because it is an odd kind of life, doesn’t, I believe, make it any less living.
“Languages have a grammar and a syntax. This structure imprints itself on our thinking. This is not the only source from which order is given to our thinking, but in terms of external sources of order, language is the earliest and the most fundamental.
“Why bother with this?
“When Autumn begins and science comes forth, the whole conceptual content of the world’s languages begins to undergo deep alteration. This is not just in the meaning of various words, but in the nature of those languages themselves. More and more the languages (especially in Western cultures) become abstract, and this means that more and more the ordinary thinking, of the people who breath in these languages, becomes abstract.
“What does it mean: to become abstract?
“Imagine a field of flowers in a meadow in the high mountains. I come to this field and I count all the yellow daisy-like flowers. I do this on many fields, in many mountain ranges. Then I write a treatise on the nature of the distribution of yellow, high altitude, daises. What I did was “abstract” some facts, usually only a small part, out of all the other facts, out of the context in which they had their actual existence.
“This is the process of abstraction. To see parts instead of wholes. And, of course, the whole ecology movement, the green movement, is a reaction to the consequences for the natural world of basing our understanding of that world upon abstractions. All that ecology now is beginning to understand, was first overlooked by those processes of abstraction.
“I believe you can see that something fundamental has been violated. Abstract thinking, in tearing the part from out of the whole, has severely limited what it is capable of understanding. Of course, what makes the whole thing worse, is that this abstract scientific cause and effect thinking has become the norm in politics and business, bringing all the disastrous social consequences we see today. Abstract cause and effecdt thinking cannot comprehend human nature or human communities.
“There is more to this story.
“One of the older ideas of Western culture, refers to truth, beauty and goodness. Now these qualities have their origin in certain aspects of the human soul, what we need to call our Inside. We have a capacity for reason. We have a capacity for imagination. We have a capacity for devotion. When these capacities are exercised, then reason leads to truth, imagination to beauty and devotion to goodness. Thus, culture has three main aspects: science, or reasoned truth; art, or imagined beauty; and, religion, or devoted goodness.
“Now I wish I could say the whole thing doesn’t get more complicated, but in the beginning it does. However, in the end, once we have some better word-pictures – ideas which are more whole and less part, less abstract then – hopefully we will have something with that aura of simplicity we recognize in the beautiful.
“O.K. So Fall begins with the appearance of Science. This begins the process of abstraction, the separation of parts out of wholes. Or to say it another way, this is when the tellers of the stories of truth abandoned beauty and goodness. At that point, the tellers of the stories of truth began to no longer believe in the value of the human Inside, our soul and spirit.
“More and more, only the outsides of things had any meaning for the tellers of the stories of truth. The inner significance of the world, and of the human being, which was, at that time, carried more concretely in art and religion, disappears
“The gay colors of Fall, of the now starting to die civilization, appeared in the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. The Inside, that which was being forgotten, then gave to this dying civilization, all that it had left. First then comes those bright explosions of art (the tellers of the stories of beauty – the renaissance), then the rearranging winds of change in religion (the tellers of the stories of goodness – the reformation) and then the light that illuminates the Outsides of the world of Nature, science, (the tellers of stories of truth – the enlightenment); after which, the Death processes of Late Fall galloped forth in the Industrial Revolution (which was scientific truth materialized – but without beauty and goodness), to trample, in their unrestrained power, all that wonderful and subtle social order that had once existed in the so ordinary extraordinary everyday ways of life of families and communities.
“With the Inside forgotten, science proceeded to dominate our way of thinking, to the diminution of the full (true-whole) understanding of life that needs also what art and religion can offer. So we go from Fall into Winter, lost to our Inside; and the world picture we, of the present, are born into – are taught by our language and in our schools – is a world-picture only of Outsides. This one-sided view is at the very least a kind of madness. Thus, its broad application throughout our social life, in the absence of any real appreciation of Insides, has lead to social Darwinism, market economies, and the elimination of any kind of healthy idea of human nature in the decision making processes of our public, or political, life.
“Not all that has happened can be laid at the feet of Science. This would not only be unfair, it would be untrue. Science itself results from another change, one only yet recognized by a few individuals.
“The arrival of science arose out of a change in the Insides – a change in our consciousness. Prior to the 14th century, looking backward in time, a picture can be created which notices that the human being’s relationship, to the world of nature, to the social world, and to him or herself, was different.
“Thus, the transition into Fall, from Summer, has different roots. The Insides alter, then comes Fall and Winter, as characterized above.
“The Scholastics, the church scholars, of the 11th and 12th centuries, referred to the way they were related to the world as “participation”. This participatory form of consciousness recedes, and another form, an object-relationship form, appears. We go from participation to, what one author calls, the “onlooker separation”.
“First we are inside nature, part of it (Summer), then we are “squeezed out”, to become observers (Fall).
“We could go back further into Summer, but for now that would be too much. We should notice that the change from participation to onlooker consciousness takes many generations, and has its own roots deep in the Mystery. An aspect of this part of the Mystery is remembered in Taoism in the idea of “being at one with nature” – a form of consciousness from the past.
“Modern science arises from the new form of consciousness, and is an “observational” look at the natural world. The scientist – the teller of the stories of truth – begins almost immediately to forget he is part of nature. Not only that, but this is done intentionally. Scientific method, as it emerges over time, at first removes the observer from the equation. Only instruments are deemed objective. The senses of the observer are fallible, and the mind subjective.
“That is, to most of the scientists. In the romantics and the transcendentalists, this assumption was denied. Goethe, Coleridge, and Emerson (and many others, of course) wove all their thoughts out of an understanding that regardless of the qualities of our inner life – its seeming subject/object confusion – we remained a part of nature. Nature was a whole which included humanity, and that fact could be accounted for in the methods by which nature was to become understood.
“Now everybody take a deep breath. We have suffered through the worst of it – this is the story of the origins of the age of confusion after all, our modern age – and now, hopefully, we can go forward into Beauty, as the Navaho so wonderfully speak of it.
“The change from Summer to Fall, from participation to object consciousness, is also a harvest of a sort. Summer has produced an abundance, given birth to something that becomes a permanent part of our nature. The Mystery gives to the human being, in this act of separating us out from our participation with Nature, greater individuality. We are, in this bridge from Summer to Fall, set free from a kind of natural determinism.
“No longer is someone John’s son, i.e. Johnson, or from a place, i.e. de Chardin, or identified with a craft, i.e. a Smith. The emancipation from the determinism of our participation in Nature is accompanied by a further emancipation from the social/moral determinism of being a member of a family and a community.
“Modern feminism overshoots its mark by assuming that only women are, and have been, the prisoners of roles. Everyone has been; and, only now, after many generations of the social change, which accompanies the age of confusion, are all human beings beginning to find greater freedom for the self determination of their social/moral roles as members of human communities.
“The reach of the Mystery is deep. The age of confusion, for all its seemingly undesirable qualities, has been a necessary womb for the birth of socially and morally free human beings.
“At the cost of traditional community, we have been given individual freedom from social and moral coercion. Even so, for what do we now hunger? Having lost traditional community, we now sense its absence. We remember community, our story tellers remember it for us, as well. But everything has turned inside out; and, now community can only arise through the conscious sacrifice of individual impulses. To have community we must choose between unlimited license and mastery of the soul by the elevation of the spirit. The prisoners of fixed roles (at least in those societies which are the forerunners of these far reaching world wide changes), now have to choose how to make human communities work on the basis of freedom, rather then on the basis of tradition.
“The more freedom, the more responsibility.
“This then is a picture of the Fall into Winter which makes possible the Springtime of a new civilization.
“What then does this tell us about Spring?
“It will have, as I have been able to see it, the following qualities.
“A new form of language. No longer abstract, but imaginative and pictorial. The Insides will be returned. Beauty and Goodness will be reunited with Truth, imagination and devotion rejoined to reason. Here is a work of generations.
“As the story tellers begin to tell the new stories, the stories of Spring, then language will change, slowly and surely. The children will be raised into this new picture-language, breathing it in, learning to see the world and themselves as a whole.
“Out of these changes new social forms will grow, along side the changes in language that comes with the new stories. Human beings will reach up to touch the Mystery and the Mystery will reach down to touch human beings. A new civilization will be born.”